Breathes there a man with a soul so dead that he only listens to music heard first when he was in high school?
Evidently, yes, if my experience is any guide. Give me a phone or IPod and I can tell you the age of the owner with more accuracy than Sherlock Holmes granted a walking stick.
There are more grievous problems in the world, but few limitations more stupid. It is self-imposed, because the same technology that lets my download Styx and “Come Sail Away” could be used to broaden my musical world.
It is pitiable when a man’s musical taste has not grown past that he achieved at eighteen. While he might enjoy for nostalgia’s sake the stuff he consumed in youth by middle age, he should have added other fare to the musical menu.
If Peanut Butter Crunch is still your favorite food at 40, then you have pathetic food life. If U2 is the best music in your collection at 50, then you are no gentleman.
This is not to encourage snobbery. Simple music can be profound and complex music worrisomely empty of any meaning other than pretentiousness. Even in popular music there lurks more than a suspicion in me that what I am hearing is not the genuine product of a people, but marketed stuff that deserves to die.
The good news is that technology has set us free, absolutely free, with a small amount of money to enjoy (nearly!) every kind of music ever made.
This is good news, but just as literacy is not great gift if you never read, so endless possibilities only condemn us if we stay with the safe and the sane.
Learning what was lovable in each generation of pop music is a great introduction to what marketing companies thought they could sell. Hearing Pop’s pop is a decent education on what moved Dad back in the day. Disconcerting? Of course, but also illuminating. The cultural corner of history in which time has dumped us can be escaped, even if only for a moment, by other people’s music.
I have also found genuine treasures by breaking free of my own time. This is not just a nostalgic visit to the past, but also a trip forward from my past to now. My children push me to try new things as well and have educated me in many ways.
Oddly, my children, products of an age of endless choices, have often broadened my taste in past pop.
Here, without further excuses from a philosopher with a degree of guilt for the “triviality” of the exercise is music given to me by others. None of them are exactly popular, cool, or quite forgotten. None will cause people to admire my musical education, but all have helped me in one way or another.
From my grandparent’s generation, I love Bing Crosby. He can sing. He also can act (“Going My Way”), but mostly he can sing. The complete Bing Crosby on ITunes is stunningly cheap.
Ella Fitzgerald? You don’t love songs until you hear her voice.
From my Dad, I found the Chuck Wagon Gang. At their best, the early years, they are the authentic voice of people who loved Jesus and making music. There is nothing mass market or synthesized about their love of Jesus and gospel music.
There is a whole forgotten era of music before Rock swept all else away that Dad heard before Rock Around the Clock. Go to the play “Forever Plaid” or get the soundtrack for a crash course on music that grew stale just before Elvis, but at its best was a sound that does not deserve to die utterly.
My Mother loved Roy Rogers as a girl going to the movies. The Sons of the Pioneers gives a man access to a time when gospel, patriotism, and the West were mixed up. Sometimes this was in bad ways, but it has helped me understand the world better.
My wife? She gave me a classical musical education, but on the easy listening front she gave me Thelonious Monk, made band music fun for me (the Perinton Concert Band remains the best fun for the dollar on the planet!), and tons of trumpet players. It is hard to imagine any life without Canadian Brass, Alison Balsom, and Maurice Andre.
Andrea Bocelli and Jussi Bjorling do excellent romantic mood music. We both owe Katherine Jenkins to a mutual love of “Doctor Who” and general sappiness. A second grade teacher of Hope’s taught both of us to love Simon and Garfunkel.
My brother gave me U2 and took me to see them at a Joshua Tree concert. This was the only concert in my experience where Evangelicals and High Pagans were there in equal numbers.
Bible College handed me Pink Floyd, don’t ask, and a guilty-secret passion for the Monkees, even though they were before my time. (Watch the television show! Really. It is weirdly clever.) Other friends handed me Christopher Parkening.
A beloved teacher gave me show tunes, taught me the way of the “Music Man” (“there is always a band”), and that you didn’t have to sing well to do “Man of La Mancha.” An autograph from Shirley Jones remains a prized family possession. Download more Shirley Jones and live a better life. (Don’t overlook Mary Martin!) Hope never got “Camelot,” but maybe you should.
My children forced me to really listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber and get over my aversions. And then a friend in it transformed “Phantom” for me. Hear the music live, without amplification, if you can.
Jane gave me Pomplamoose. Mary Kate found Nickel Creek. Robin handed me soul searing Sufjan Stevens. Lewis grew up at Disneyland and in the Second Golden Age of Disney music. We are all still singing the older Disney stuff too (Sherman!) (Sherman!) while still wondering the nature of a “blue corn moon.”
All of this music taught me to love new ideas, genre of music, and ways of being. It kept me from being trapped in my own time and so enabled me to love those who came before me and those who will endure after me. New loves gave me a greater capacity to love . . . and ultimately all this love points me to God and happiness.
Now off to listen to the genius of Howard Shore.